Editor, Safety & Health Practitioner

Author Bio ▼

Ian joined Informa (formerly UBM) in 2018 as the Editor of SHP. Ian studied journalism at university before spending seven years in online fantasy gaming. Prior to moving to Informa, Ian worked in business to business trade print media, in the automotive sector. He was Online Editor and then moved on to be the Editor of two publications aimed at independent automotive technicians and parts distributors.
September 24, 2021

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Grenfell

Grenfell Tower fire: No action over 2009 cladding warning, inquiry told

A public inquiry has heard that the government was asked to warn councils of the risks posed by external wall panels following another fire in 2009, by the London Fire Brigade (LFB), but failed to act on the advice.

GrenfellVIdeoAccording to the second phase of the public inquiry, which is looking into the cause of the fire, including how the 24-storey tower came to be in a condition which allowed the blaze to spread, LFB said it was told there was “insufficient” information to warrant a warning.

The 2009 being referred to, occurred in Lakanal House in Camberwell, south-east London, where six people died.

The inquiry was told that LFB’s investigations into that fire found that tests conducted on the external wall panels installed showed they did not meet the standards suggested by building regulation guidance.

In December 2009 the commissioner of the LFB, Ron Dobson, wrote to the chief fire and rescue adviser to the Department for Communities and Local Government, asking them to warn housing providers that it would be advisable for them to check that external walls panels installed on high rise housing met the required specifications.

However, the inquiry was shown evidence that the Department for Communities and Local Government adviser, Sir Ken Knight, replied to say there was “insufficient information to warrant alerting housing authorities”.

Panels failed fire tests 13 years before Grenfell

In September 2021, the BBC reported that leaked test results suggest the government and construction industry had early evidence of the dangers posed by cladding, 13 years before the Grenfell Tower fire.

The report claims that cladding panels underwent fire tests in 2004 and failed to pass the assessment. It has been widely reported that some homeowners are facing bills in the hundreds of thousands of pounds as a result of fire safety concerns, while insurance costs are also rising significantly.

The tests formed part of research commissioned by the then Labour government, looking into what standards building systems should have to meet. The results were among the first from a British test of full-scale building systems, developed in the late 1990s when there were growing concerns in Parliament about the risks of cladding.

In total, the documents say, five cladding systems underwent the tests, including one with aluminium panels, similar to those which have been blamed for helping to spread the fire on the Grenfell Tower. Two were constructed from high pressure laminate (HPL) boards, formed from wood, or paper fibre, widely used on modern apartment blocks in the UK.

In the tests, all five systems were judged to have failed against “proposed performance criteria”. Most of the tests were carried out without using “fire breaks” – extra components which should be fitted to block the spread of flames. However, fire breaks were used in one high pressure laminate panel system, but it still failed.

Jonathan Evans, Director of Ash and Lacy, a major UK supplier of cladding systems, told the BBC that he had never seen the results, and described them as “really vital bits of information” which would have helped assess fire risks after Grenfell. He said that when poor test data is not made public, it creates a bias towards tests with successful outcomes.

“We all proceed along the route of thinking these systems are safer than they are, until there’s a disaster.”

US judge allows lawsuit against cladding firm

A court has ruled that US shareholders in the Grenfell Tower cladding firm Arconic, can proceed with a lawsuit against the company after witnesses said managers knew the cladding performed badly in fire safety tests, yet continued to be used on high-rise buildings. A group of US investors says they incurred financial losses when Arconic’s Reynobond PE cladding was implicated in the Grenfell fire in 2017.

According to the Guardian, their claim hinges on whether the company knew the cladding could be dangerous and should have warned investors of the risk involved in selling it. According to the FIA, a US judge ruled that the claim can proceed after the shareholders put forward testimony from two anonymous former Arconic employees, who say managers at its French subsidiary knew of the risks.

The plaintiffs also point to an expert report, submitted to the Grenfell Tower inquiry in the UK, which found that the safety rating of the cladding had been downgraded. One confidential witness said Claude Wehrle and Claude Schmidt, senior members of staff where Arconic’s cladding was manufactured, were aware of the cladding’s poor performance in safety tests. A second witness said Schmidt “knew that the downgraded Reynobond PE panels were regularly being sold for use in high-rises”. Wehrle has refused to give evidence to the Grenfell inquiry. Schmidt said he was “practically sure” he had raised concerns with the US parent company.

During the legal battle with shareholders, Arconic has said it could not have known what the two men allegedly knew, arguing that they worked at a foreign subsidiary and did not hold senior positions in the company.

According to the ruling, Arconic also argues that the men did not know the use of Reynobond PE was inappropriate because that depended on the overall cladding system, not just aluminium panels.

The court found that this argument failed, finding that the claim “supports a strong inference that an Arconic manager not only knew that Arconic was regularly selling Reynobond PE for use in high-rises, but also that he knew, or at least recklessly disregarded, that this ‘common practice’ was improper”.

The plaintiffs are making a financial claim against Arconic for their losses, although the value of the claim is yet to be determined. While the judge dismissed several of the claims, including those made against individual senior managers at the company, it allowed two to proceed.

The claims that will go ahead are under sections 10(b) and 11 of the US Securities Act, which covers misleading information given to shareholders and companies’ liability for them.

A spokesperson for Arconic stated that the two claims are “meritless” and that they “intend to prevail in court”.

Government wants new proposals on Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans

Following the Fire Safety Consultation, which ran from 20 July to 12 October 2020, the government is asking for views on new proposals to implement the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 recommendations on Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPS) in high-rise residential buildings.

The consultation contains proposals to implement the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report recommendations on Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans, that require a change in law to place new requirements on owners or managers of multi-occupied high-rise residential buildings.

It supports delivery of two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 recommendations and is part of the government’s package of reforms to improve building and fire safety in all regulated premises where people live, stay or work.

The government aims to implement PEEPs by the introduction of regulations through a power in article 24 of the Fire Safety Order.

Whilst PEEPs in a high-rise residential setting are not commonplace, PEEPs are more common in the workplace. PEEPs in the workplace seek to provide people who cannot get themselves out of a building unaided with a bespoke escape plan in a fire emergency. However, the workplace and residential building are different and therefore a PEEP in a residential setting will need to reflect that different context.

Responsibilities

Building on existing provisions in the Fire Safety Order, it is proposed to place additional legal requirements on the Responsible Person (which includes building owners and managers) and on those who otherwise have control of the building (or part thereof) under the Order. Those persons currently have overall responsibility to put in place general fire precautions to ensure the building (and people in it) is safe.

Proposals

In summary, the proposals set out are:

  • Proposal 1: to require the Responsible Person to prepare a PEEP for every resident in a high-rise residential building who self-identifies to them as unable to self-evacuate (subject to the resident’s voluntary self-identification) and to do so in consultation with them.
  • Proposal 2: to provide a PEEP template to assist the Responsible Person and the residents in completing the PEEP, and to support consistency at a national level.
  • Proposal 3: to require the Responsible Person to complete and keep up to date information about residents in their building who would have difficulty self-evacuating in the event of a fire (and who have voluntarily self-identified as such), and to place it in an information box on the premises to assist effective evacuation during a rescue by the Fire and Rescue Service.
  • Proposal 4: in order to assist the Responsible Person and support consistency at a national level, to provide a template to capture the key information to be provided in the information box.

The proposals relate to England only.

Subject to consideration of the responses and the final Ministerial decision, the intention is for the proposals to be implemented in secondary legislation alongside other Grenfell recommendations in autumn 2021.

The consultation document and impact assessment document can be found here.

Risk assessor had “misleading” qualifications

On Tuesday 25 May the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, currently in Module three of its second phase, heard that the fire risk assessor hired to check the safety of Grenfell Tower between 2009 and 2016 had “misleading” qualifications in his title and “cut and pasted assessments” from reports on other buildings he checked, into Grenfell assessments. 

Carl Stokes, a former firefighter turned fire risk assessor was recruited by the Grenfell landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisations (TMO), for six fire safety checks between 2009 and 2016. According to The Guardian, Mr Stokes claimed he was ‘fire eng (FPA)’, despite no such qualification existing, as well as an ‘IFE assessor/auditor’, even though he was not a member of the Institute of Fire Engineers. Also included were ‘NEBOSH’, ‘FIA BS5839 system designer’ and ‘competent engineer BS 5266’ – but agreed when responding to the Inquiry that such post-nominals aren’t recognised by any professional body, but were simply courses he had attended.

Colin Todd, a Fire Engineer and Expert Witness commented that Mr Stokes use of such letters after his name would “significantly mislead clients and potential clients as to his qualifications, regardless of his level of competence”. Stokes replied he did not understand the use of post-nominals.

As part of the fire risk assessment his job involved checking vital fire safety measures in communal areas, such as door closures, firefighting equipment and evacuation routes, though was not tasked with checking the external cladding system or inside individual flats. Several of these areas were, however, found to be not working or ineffective at the time of the fire.

The Inquiry also heard that Mr Stokes “cut-and-pasted assessments about the fire safety of the tower from reports on other buildings he had carried out”, such as reporting the Tower had balconies and pigeon netting, which was incorrect, while his claimed “three years of experience” turned out to be 15 months.

Two of the assessments he conducted were carried out in April and June 2016, following major refurbishment work where the cladding that was identified as a major cause of the spread of the fire was installed.

Mr Stokes is no longer working as a fire risk assessor. He will continue giving evidence until Thursday 27 May.

New fire laws ‘indefensible’, say Grenfell survivors

Attempts to amend the Fire Safety Bill with a clause prohibiting remediation costs from being passed on to residents – such as dangerous cladding, fire doors and insulation systems – have been rejected by members of parliament.

Peers have been attempting to push through changes to the Fire Safety Bill to prevent owners of blocks of flats passing the costs for fire safety remedial work on to leaseholders. They argued a government grants and loan scheme should be in place first. The government says the changes are “inappropriate and unworkable”, while also indicating the issue would be dealt with in the incoming Building Safety Bill. After much back and forth between the two houses, the Fire Safety Bill was eventually passed in late April without amendment.

It has been widely reported that some homeowners are facing bills in the hundreds of thousands of pounds as a result of fire safety concerns, while insurance costs are also rising significantly.

The news has been described as “indefensible”, by Grenfell Tower survivors and bereaved relatives. Lawyer Steph Pike, a leaseholder of a one-bedroom flat in Bristol, told the BBC she could be facing a £70,000 bill next year to cover the cost of improvement work to her building. She said the situation was “completely unbelievable”.

Council accused of prioritising ‘cost over safety’

The latest phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, which is looking into complains and communications with residents and compliance with the Fire Safety Order, has heard that a resident of the tower warned that an ‘inferno’ could engulf the building and ‘trap the residents… with no escape,’ seven years before the fire happened.

Lawyers for the victims of the fire have accused the council that owned the tower block of ‘bullying’ residents who raised fire concerns. An email was read out, from council worker Laura Johnson, which was sent during the building’s refurbishment saying that a councillor would not want to attend a public meeting of people “moaning about minor issues”. Building managers denied being “dismissive” towards residents and their concerns.

It has also emerged that the London fire brigade warned Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea about dangerous cladding two months before the fire, but the landlord failed to order checks, which the counsel for the bereaved said displayed “a staggering lack of concern” and “scant regard for safety”.

Click here to read the BBC’s round-up of ‘what we now know about the Grenfell cladding’.

Government pledges additional £3.5bn to tackle cladding crisis

Housing Secretary announced on 10 February 2021, that the Government will provide an extra £3.5m to help remove unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings over 18m.

The £3.5bn fund announced by Robert Jenrick is in addition to the £1.6bn released for the Building Safety Fund, announced last year, to try and help the estimated 700,000+ affected people.

Meanwhile, the Inquiry, which has now resumed, has heard for the first time from Grenfell’s cladding manufacturer, Arconic.

Sales Manager Deborah French told the Inquiry that she was never given any safety training by her manager. It was also highlighted how Arconic was able to sell a more flammable type of product in the UK, than elsewhere in the World where building regulation are stronger.

Deborah French said that was ‘very rare’ for customers raise any questions about the fire safety of the cladding and so it was ‘not something that was discussed’.

Claude Schmidt, the President of Arconic’s French arm, has admitted that the company ‘misled’ and ‘lied’ to customers about fire safety. ITV reports that Mr Schmidt responded to several emails highlighting that they were aware of the dangers of the cladding years before the fire.

In February 2021, SHP and IFSEC Global spoke to Gill Kernick, Master Consultant at JMJ Associates, and former Grenfell resident. Moving out three years before the tragedy in 2017, she has been a high-profile voice on the subject. In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, Gill talks about about the pressing need to improve building safety and prevent low probability, high consequence events – such as Grenfell – from happening again.


Download the Fire Safety in 2020 eBook, from IFSEC Global and FIREX International, to keep up-to-date with the biggest stories of the year. It includes the latest legislation, Grenfell Tower Inquiry revelations and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected professionals in the sector.


Inquiry suspended following UK lockdown

Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of a third nationwide lockdown to combat rising coronavirus cases, the Inquiry was once again suspended until at least February. The restart was planned for 11 January after a Christmas break, but the move now threatens to delay its conclusions until 2022.

In related news, Building Safety Minister, Stephen Greenhalgh, has put further pressure on executives from cladding firm Arconic to appear before the inquiry, after it was revealed three of those based in France are citing the 1968 French Blocking Statute for reasons to not give evidence.

Cladding manufacturers ‘abused testing regimes’

In what was described as a ‘sinister’ revelation, the Public Inquiry heard evidence that the companies involved in manufacturing Grenfell Tower’s cladding ‘abused testing regimes… deliberately misled customers about the performance of their products and circumvented regulations with clever marketing’.

As reported in The Guardian, Arconic, Celotex and Kingspan, which made the cladding sheets, combustible foam insulation and remaining insulation respectively, were all found by lawyers to have either misled testers or ignored compliance which distorted the full-scale fire tests of materials. The three companies ‘strongly dispute the claims’, and each appeared to blame each other, as well as external factors such as the competency of the construction professionals. Three executives of Arconic are refusing to attend the Inquiry.

Remediation works to remove and replace unsafe cladding update

Remediation works to remove and replace unsafe Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding systems have either completed or started on 77% (351) of all identified high-rise residential and publicly owned buildings in England, according to a report. An increase of 10 since the end of August.

Other headlines from the release include the following:

  • 236 buildings (52% of all identified buildings) no longer have ACM cladding systems – an increase of five since the end of August. 189 (41% of all buildings) have fully completed remediation – an increase of 22 since the end of August;
  • Of those with ACM cladding remaining, a further 115 have started remediation. Of the 105 yet to start, eight are vacant and 80 occupied buildings have a remediation plan in place;
  • 95% (148) of social sector buildings have either completed or started remediation. 74% of the 155 buildings have removed the ACM cladding, with 84 (54%) having completed remediation;
  • 61% (127) of private sector buildings have either completed or started remediation. Of these, 60 have had their ACM cladding removed.

Click here for more on this story from out sister site, IFSEC Global.

Cladding firm did not check the design met fire safety requirements

Ray Bailey, Director of Harley Facades, has told the Grenfell Tower Inquiry that the firm relied on architects and building control officers to make sure designs were safe and that the company itself did not check the safety of the cladding which was used during the Grenfell Tower refurbishment.

Grenfell Tower LondonHe accused supplier Celotex of misleading his firm about its safety, stating that he felt his firm was deceived that the insulation used on the project was safe for high-rises.

He said Polyisocyanurate (PIR) foam rigid insulation boards became widely used in construction around a decade ago.

During the inquiry, Mr Bailey was asked about how much he knew about their fire risk, he said: “When we were asked to use Celotex on Grenfell Tower, we were of the mindset that these new special super duper insulation products were acceptable providing they met certain criteria.

“Celotex made a big, big deal about their products being suitable, specifically designed for building over 18 metres.

“They used the term, which is very misleading now looking back, ‘Class 0 throughout’.”

A Class 0 fire safety certificate is the minimum requirement for external surfaces of buildings.

Mr Bailey said: “I think we carried out all possible reasonable checks… we didn’t believe for one second that they would attempt to mislead us on this.”

The consultation, set up to gather views on proposals to strengthen the Fire Safety Order, closes on 12 October.

Grenfell inquiry resumes

The Inquiry into the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire resumed on Monday 7 September on a ‘limited attendance’ basis, with two witnesses set to be able to give evidence on one day via approved ‘modifications’, as reported by the Fire Protection Association.

The second phase began with hearings delayed due to witnesses asking for a guarantee from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox that they will be protected when they give evidence and that anything they say in the hearings will not be used for any prosecution. This was granted and later extended. At the time, the inquiry’s Chief Lawyer, Richard Millett QC, said each claimed what happened was “someone else’s fault”. This is despite widespread expert opinion that the work failed to meet building regulations.

After resuming post COVID-19 suspension, the first week heard a senior fire engineer ‘did not raise the need for any proposed cladding system to have a separate fire safety assessment’, while another was sent the cladding design report but didn’t view it. Two fire consultants gave ‘no thought’ to evacuating disabled residents; Studio E and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea clashed over fire safety; another consultant ‘had no clue that cladding was part of the plans’; and a Studio E architect said no drawing records were kept and aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding was the ‘cheaper option’.

Grenfell main contractor ‘ignored’ cladding fears warning

A senior figure at the main contractor responsible for the refurbishment work at Grenfell Tower ‘ignored’ email concerns that the cladding could be combustible, the inquiry has been told.

Claire Williams from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) firm running the tower sent an email to Rydon’s Simon Lawrence on 12 November 2014 asking for clarity on whether the cladding selected for the refurbishment would resist fire.

The inquiry has been told that there is no evidence that anyone at Rydon acknowledged or replied to that email.

‘No fire issues’ in 2012 Grenfell cladding plan

A fire safety expert who worked on the project to clad Grenfell Tower in 2012 has said that the plans presented no “particular issues or problems” when it came to fire safety.

Dr Clare Barker, formerly Principal Fire Engineer at consultant Exova, was being probed by Richard Millett QC, leading counsel to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, at the resumption of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry following the UK’s coronavirus lockdown.

She was asked if, at the time, she considered cladding the building would present any particular issues or problems with regard to fire safety, Dr Barker replied: “No, I didn’t.”

Dr Barker was also asked if there was a reason why she did not suggest that advice on the specific cladding system should be included in the fire safety strategy, to which she also replied: “No.”

Millett QC then asked Dr Barker if the question of the need for cavity barriers within the cladding should form part of the fire strategy discussed, to which she replied: “Not at that meeting.”

Construction Manager reports that, moving on to Exova’s fee proposal, Millett quoted to Dr Barker the scope of the consultant’s works. The proposal said: “This scope of works is based on the assumption that a detailed appraisal is not required of the structural fire protection to the loadbearing elements of structure or of the fire compartmentation within the building. However, if it should transpire during the site survey that such an appraisal is necessary, then the scope of works can be extended to cover this, subject to a separate fee agreement.”

He asked on what basis the assumption was made that an appraisal of the structural fire protection of the compartmentation was not necessary.

Dr Barker replied: “I would say it was assumed that, because the building was a concrete building, it possessed the necessary fire resistance, as well as because at the time that it was constructed it was required to be a building with two-hour fire resistance to the structural elements. As it says underneath about carrying out a site survey to do that appraisal, that wouldn’t be something that we could do.”

£1 billion Building Safety Fund launched by government

During the first budget of 2020 in March, the newly-appointed Chanceller of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced that extra funds will be made available from the Government to support the removal of combustible Grenfell-style cladding on tower blocks. On June 4, the Government announced the launch of the Building Safety Fund, by opening the registration process, which closes on 31 July 2020. 

The Building Safety Fund is designed to help building owners and landlords replace unsafe non-ACM cladding on residential buildings at least 18 metres high which do not comply with building regulations. Unsafe non-ACM cladding includes certain types of other (non-Aluminium) metal composite or high pressure laminate panels, render and timber wall systems.

Experts had already commented that the original £600m would not be enough, even for those blocks with cladding that conforms to the Government’s strict rules. The Chancellor noted this in his budget speech, and has pledged an extra £1 billion in a new building safety fund.

During the announcement, The Chancellor said: “Two and a half years on, we’re still grappling with the tragic legacy of Grenfell. Expert advice is clear that new public funding must concentrate on removing unsafe materials from high rise residential buildings, so today I am creating a new building safety fund worth £1 billion.”

He followed on to say that all experts, committees (including the select committee) and the opposition agree that this is necessary. The funding will go “beyond ACM to make sure that all unsafe cladding will be removed for all social and residential buildings above 18m high”.

The Housing Secretary pledged to look to spearhead these efforts in the housing sector.

The Government also pledged increased investment to national infrastructure projects across the UK, including in 4G and broadband coverage, green transportation methods.

MPs launch inquiry into cladding remediation

In March 2020, it was announced that MPs were to launch a new inquiry to review the progress made in removing potentially dangerous cladding from high-rise and high-risk buildings. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry announced that it would also look at the adequacy of funding by the government.

Grenfell housing

The government has offered funding for the removal of aluminium composite material (ACM) ACM cladding from private sector properties but the Committee pointed out that 143 out of 175 properties with this form of cladding are yet to begin remedial work. Residents in properties with other forms of cladding face uncertainty of the timescale for removal and potential costs of tens of thousands of pounds, it added.

The inquiry will examine the scale of issues facing residents in buildings due to combustible cladding. It will also look at the quality and effectiveness of government support for the removal of all form of dangerous cladding from existing buildings, in particular the pace of remediation.

The Committee’s chair, Labour MP Clive Betts, said: “There are still hundreds of buildings encased in combustible cladding and thousands of residents facing serious financial strain as a result. The knock-on effect of dangerous cladding on buildings has been significant, with homeowners facing increased insurance or mortgage premiums, and even having to fund round-the-clock fire patrols simply to stay in their own homes.

“The government is providing financial support to enable the removal of ACM cladding from privately owned buildings, but this appears to be far short of what is necessary to address the real scale of the issue.

“We have launched this inquiry to understand the impact that the government’s response has had in providing support and driving forward remediation work. We also want to better understand the scale of the problems facing residents and look at what more will need to be done to ensure that buildings are made safe, and the financial impact on residents addressed.

“This Committee has already called on the government to fund the removal of all forms of combustible cladding and criticised the pace of change. Nearly 1,000 days since the fire at Grenfell Tower, these issues must now be addressed.”

Fire Safety Bill introduced by the Home Office

The Home Office has introduced a new Fire Safety Bill, in an effort to improve fire safety in buildings in England and Wales.

Set to amend the Fire Safety Order 2005, the bill has been designed to “ensure that people feel safe in their homes, and a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire never happens again”.

The Home Office has set out clarification to who is accountable for reducing the risk of fires – the duty-holder/building owner for multi-occupied, residential buildings. They must manage the risk of fire for:

  • The structure and external walls of the building (e.g. cladding, balconies and windows);
  • Entrance doors to individual flats that open into communal areas.

Click here for further information on the new Fire Safety Bill.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 2

Cladding firm suggested use of cheaper panels

On 11 March 2020, the second phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry were presented with an email, sent in 2013 from Mark Harris, of Harley Facades, advising architects that, “from a selfish point of view”, his firm’s preference was to use aluminium composite material (ACM).

ACM was “tried and tested” and the firm had used it many times before, he said.

The second phase of the inquiry is looking into how the building came to be covered in such cladding.

It is the first time that the inquiry has listened to suggestions as to why the material used to clad the building was changed during the refurbishment programme, between 2012 and 2016.

Fire safety guidance for tall buildings were not checked by architect

A week previously, Studio E’s Bruce Sounes, told the inquiry that he wasn’t aware of concerns over the safety of combustible panels often being used on housing blocks.

He said fire safety details were for specialist consultants and added that he had not designed the cladding used.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report

London Fire Brigade was described as ‘slow’ and ‘wasteful’ in the report, by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS). It went on to say that London Fire Brigade (LFB) ‘needs to make improvements’.

It found that LFB:

  • ‘Requires improvement’ at effectively keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks;
  • ’Requires improvement’ at how efficiently it manages its resources; and
  • ’Requires improvement’ at looking after its people.

The report said that firefighters regularly missed training and attended too many false alarms.

HM Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services Matt Parr called the findings ‘disappointing’ and said there are ‘too many’ areas where LFB needs to improve: “Criticism should be balanced, however, by the things the Brigade does well: it is good at understanding the risk of fire and other emergencies and preventing fires and other risks. It also responds well with other emergency services to national risks. But it should improve the way it protects the public both through fire regulation, and how it responds to fires and other emergencies.

“It is well-resourced and exceeds its own standards on response times. But its operational policies don’t reflect national operational guidance, even for risk-critical areas such as incident command. And its incident commanders and emergency drivers are not as well trained by the Brigade as they should be. This is something that needs to be urgently addressed.

“We have concluded there is a long way to go before London Fire Brigade is as efficient as it could be.”

Read the full HMICFRS report here.

Government response to Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s Phase 1 report

In January 2020, the Government published a document in response the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s Phase 1 report, which was published on 30 October 2019.

The response sets out the actions taken by the Government, in addressing the recommendations made to it and to the Emergency Services, including the London Fire Brigade. In 2019, The Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report, heavily criticised the response of The London Fire Brigade (LFB) citing ‘serious shortcomings’ and ‘systemic failures’.

The response sets out the actions taken by the Government, in addressing the recommendations made to it and to the Emergency Services, including the London Fire Brigade. The 12-page document, ‘Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report: government response’, covers the following points:

  • Use of combustible materials;
  • Recommendations where changes are required by law;
  • ‘Stay put’ and evacuation;
  • Fire doors;
  • Testing and certification;
  • Building regulations;
  • Evacuation alert systems and internal signage;
  • Building Safety Regulator.

The introduction to the paper confirms that the Government will ‘continue to ensure that we actively engage with those who have been personally affected by the tragedy and listen to their views on the changes made to building regulations and fire safety.’

It goes on to acknowledge noted that LFB has accepted in full the recommendations directed to it, as well as those for the Fire and Rescue Services more broadly. ‘The Home Office welcomes the steps LFB inform us they have already taken to address the Inquiry’s recommendations. These include revisions to policy guidance and advice to ensure personnel are better informed of the risks of fire taking hold in external walls, and the roll out of Fire Survival Guidance refresher training. The Home Office also supports LFB making smoke hoods available as part of breathing apparatus sets on all their fire appliances,’ it says.

Phase 2 of the Inquiry will investigate the wider context – including the nature and application of building regulations, the way in which local and central government responded to the fire, and the handling of concerns raised by tenants over many years.

Read the full Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report: government response, here.

On 20 January 2020, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, said that the government would begin naming the owners of high-rise buildings who’ve been slow to remove dangerous cladding. Figures show that work has yet to start on 157 residential buildings with the same type of cladding identified as a factor in the Grenfell Tower fire. Mr Jenrick told MPs: “Unless swift progress is seen in the coming weeks, I will publicly name building owners where action to remediate unsafe ACM cladding has not started. There can be no more excuses for delay, I’m demanding immediate action.”

Grenfell Tower fire

72 people were killed by the fire that engulfed the Grenfell Tower block in North Kensington, West London on Wednesday, 14 June 2017.

The 24-storey tower block burned throughout the day, taking firefighters over 24 hours to get it under control, leading to confusion and uncertainty that lasted for days.

In the 1,000-page document, which will be officially published today, enquiry Chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick states that fewer people would have died, if the LFB had taken certain actions earlier.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the report “gives the victims the truth,” and that the world “is finally hearing the truth about what happened.”

Issues highlighted in the report include:

  • A lack of training in how to ‘recognise the need for an evacuation or how to organise one’;
  • Incident commanders ‘of relatively junior rank” being unable to change strategy;
  • Control room officers lacking training on when to advise callers to evacuate;
  • An assumption that crews would reach callers, resulting in ‘assurances which were not well founded’;
  • Communication between the control room and those on the ground being ‘improvised, uncertain and prone to error’;
  • A lack of an organised way to share information within the control room, meaning officers had ‘no overall picture of the speed or pattern of fire spread’;

Click here to read the The Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report in full.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick issued the following statement, on publishing the report.

In response, the LFB said it would “carefully and fully consider all of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 report and take every action we can to improve public safety,” but that it was “disappointed” by some of the criticism of individuals. It also added disappointment that “measures we have been calling for are not in the recommendations, including the wider use of sprinklers in both new and existing buildings”.

On the night of the fire, the London Fire Brigade received an unprecedented number of 999 calls, but the report calls their operation beset by “shortcomings in practice, policy and training”. It said that call handlers were not always obtaining necessary information from the calls to ascertain where in the building the call originated from. It also says that some handlers were not made aware of what to tell residents in terms of when to evacuate.

Sir Martin says that operators were “not aware of the danger of assuming that crews would always reach callers”, stating a lack of lessons learnt from the 2009 fire at Lakanal House.

On 16 September 2019, it was revealed that, as part of the investigation into the fire, The LFB had been interviewed under caution by police. The interviews were conducted voluntarily, “as a body, rather than an individual” in relation to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the fire service said.

London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said that the fire service recognised the need for answers by survivors and the bereaved. She said that hundreds of LFB staff and volunteers had already provided interview voluntarily and that they would continue to assist the investigation.

“We must all understand what happened and why to prevent communities and emergency services from ever being placed in such impossible conditions ever again,” she added.

Ms Cotton herself was not exempt from criticism, regarding her evidence to the public inquiry in September 2018. She told the hearing that she wouldn’t change a thing about the LFB’s response to the fire. The report said she showed “remarkable insensitivity” and a lack of willing to learn lessons from Grenfell.

With news that hundreds of buildings still have ‘unsafe’ cladding, a number of fire safety experts were asked, ‘Grenfell Tower: Have lessons been learned two years on?‘ They discussed whether, two years on from the worst residential fire in living memory, there has been an adequate cultural shift – in government, the construction industry and among responsible persons – and whether this will persist.

Andy Roe to replace Dany Cotton as head of London Fire Brigade

Andy Roe London Fire BrigadeIn December 2019 Ms Cotton stepped down from the role, four months ahead of her planned retirement date. Following the public inquiry into Grenfell, she faced several calls to resign, with Grenfell United saying that a change at the top would ‘keep Londoners safe’.

Ms Cotton, who said said Grenfell Tower was “without doubt the worst fire” the London Fire Brigade has ever faced, has worked on “some of the most painful incidents to have occurred in LFB’s history” during her 32 years with the service, including the Clapham Junction rail crash in 1988 and the fire which gutted the iconic Cutty Sark in 2007.

On 12 December 2019, The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, appointed Andy Roe as London’s new Fire Commissioner. The appointment follows ‘a comprehensive international recruitment process’, according to a statement from the Mayor’s office. Mr Khan praised Ms Cotton’s career, but said her decision to leave was ‘the right one’.

A Former British Army officer, Andy brings a wealth of experience dealing with major incidents and having operational command from his time the army, as well as during his career with the LFB, where he has worked since 2002, progressing through the ranks as a firefighter – initially at Clerkenwell and West Hampstead.

Sadiq Khan, said: “Keeping Londoners safe is my number-one priority and I’m determined to do everything I can to ensure we have a fire and rescue service that is the best in the world. Andy Roe is a hugely experienced firefighter and I’m really pleased to have appointed him as London’s Fire Commissioner.”

Andy Roe, said: “It is an enormous privilege to be offered this opportunity to lead London Fire Brigade into a new decade.

“We have some real challenges ahead, but I’ll be working tirelessly with the Brigade, the Mayor and London’s communities to ensure we deliver on the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry report. I’m looking forward to leading the Brigade through a period of transformation and delivering a workforce that truly reflects the diverse city we serve.”

British Safety Council response to the fire

Commenting on the findings of Phase 1 of the inquiry, Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the British Safety Council, said: “This is a lengthy and detailed report and the industry will rightly take time to digest its details. However, it is clear there were serious shortcomings in the procedures for evacuating Grenfell Tower and in the readiness of the fire brigade, notwithstanding the individual heroism of the firefighters on the night.”

He went on to say: “As we look ahead to Phase 2 of the inquiry, lessons must be learnt about the choice of materials used to clad Grenfell Tower and the regulatory regime for high-rise buildings. As we said at the time of the fire, we urge all politicians to re-emphasise the need for effective health and safety regulation and competent fire risk management. These are fundamental to saving lives and sustaining our communities.

“Our thoughts must be with the families of the victims and the survivors of that tragedy. This detailed and important inquiry could not have taken place without their willingness to relive the horror of 14 June 2017. We can honour the victims’ memory by making sure that this tragedy can never happen again.”

The British Safety Council welcomes recommendations of the report relating to proactive fire door inspections, enhanced firefighting lift inspections and a significant increase in the provision of information to the fire enforcing authority.

James Lewis, Head of Audit and Consultancy at the British Safety Council, said: “In course of our extensive work with owners and managers of property, we have seen countless examples of failure to maintain fire safety standards at the required levels. All too often, we see fire doors left un-managed and damaged, a resistance from building owners and operators to communicate and cooperate with the fire enforcing authority, as well as failures to provide suitable and sufficient information to buildings’ occupiers.”

The British Safety Council welcomes the following recommendations from the executive summary of the report and calls for the government to consider their implementation:

  1. Section 6, A and B – Legal requirement for the provision of up-to-date plans to the local fire and rescue service and provision of premises information boxes,
  1. Section 7, A and B – Legal requirement for enhanced checks of firefighting lifts and provision of information to the local fire and rescue service,
  1. Section 12, D – Provision (for all existing and future buildings) for the local fire and rescue service to send an evacuation signal to all residents of high-rise buildings,
  1. Section 15, 33:28 – Legal requirement for owners and operators of every residential building to provide information and instruction to residents in a format that can be reasonably understood by all,
  1. Section 16, A and B – Urgent inspection of all fire doors of every residential building which contains separate dwellings, as well as a legal requirement to inspect fire doors on a quarterly basis.

Click here for a detailed Grenfell Tower fire timeline.

Grenfell Tower inquiry

Grenfell response fire safetyIn the days that followed the tragedy, Prime Minister at time, Theresa May ordered a public inquiry into the devastating blaze. “Right now, people want answers. That’s why I am today ordering a full public inquiry into this disaster,” said the PM whilst visiting the scene. “We need to know what happened, we need to have an explanation of this. People deserve answers; the inquiry will give them.”

A criminal investigation was also opened to examine whether building regulations had been breached when the block was refurbished, while then-Communities Secretary Sajid Javid set up an Independent Expert Advisory Panel (IEAP) to report on what measures could be implemented to make buildings safer.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan commented shortly after that the fire was a “preventable accident” caused by “years of neglect” by the local council and successive governments and demanded a “national response” to the tragedy.

In the phase one inquiry report, it said that the external walls of the tower failed to comply with building regulations. This area of the tower was the focal point of the refurbishment work in 2016.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick said that there was ‘compelling evidence’ that the walls did not “adequately resist the spread of fire”.

“On the contrary,” he added, “they actively promoted it.”

Grenfell Tower was built in 1974 and consisted of 120 flats and also included communal facilities. An £8.6-million refurbishment of the block took place in 2015/16 and the bottom four floors were extensively remodelled, adding nine additional homes.

Reports at the time suggested that residents of Grenfell had raised concerns about fire safety in the flats going back many years but they were ‘disregarded’. Rydon Construction, which carried out the refurbishment work, is reported to have said that it “met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards.”

Following refurbishment work, completed in 2016, London Fire Brigade gave the tower block a ‘medium’ fire risk rating but the resident’s group continued to make claims about fire safety worries.

In February 20818, Campaign group Justice 4 Grenfell created three billboards which were placed on the back of trucks and paraded around London to illustrate the lack of progress since the tragedy.

Grenfell Tower fire cause

Since the tragedy, investigations into the cause and response to the fire have been ongoing.

The ongoing public inquiry, launched by its Chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick in August 2017, received hundreds of thousands of documents and hundreds of applications to be core participants. Oral evidence and findings from expert reports began to be heard in June 2018.

In May 2018, Dame Judith Hackitt, a former Chair of the HSE, delivered her final recommendations following her Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety for the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

Hackitt concluded that indifference and ignorance had led to a “race to the bottom” in building safety practices and expressed the need for a “radical rethink of the whole system and how it works”. This included recommendations for recommends a “very clear model of risk ownership” and an “outcomes-based” regulatory framework, but did not recommend an explicit ban on combustible cladding.

Following the report’s publication, the government said it would consult on banning combustible cladding. Housing Secretary James Brokenshire added that ministers will also look to ban the use of desktop studies to assess the performance of external cladding systems based on the BS 8414 test.

The cladding used on housing is one of the primary focuses of scrutiny following the Grenfell fire. An estimated 800 high rise buildings across the country use similar cladding to that found in Grenfell Tower. A number of tests into cladding have resulted worrying results: Javid said in September that of 173 high-rise social housing blocks fitted with aluminium cladding, only 8 passed fire safety building regulations.

It was revealed in March that only seven of the 158 social housing blocks in England with dangerous cladding have had the material completely removed. The government announced in May that it will fund a £400-million operation to remove dangerous cladding from tower blocks owned by councils and housing associations.

Also under scrutiny was the standard advice to tenants of blocks of flats that they are safer if they stay in their accommodation than to leave, unless it is their flat which is on fire.

Latest articles:

LFB voices growing concerns over number of new properties being ‘deliberately’ designed to avoid fire safety rules

The LFB has expressed mounting concerns over the quantity of new properties being designed to avoid adhering to post-Grenfell fire safety rules.

High rise residential buildings: Preliminary serious incident scenarios and potential control measures

A Joint Regulators’ Group, including the HSE, is assisting in the implimentation of a risk framework for the proposed new safety case regime. 

The role of digital construction technology in improving fire safety and inspections

Matt Ryan explains how digital tools are providing the next step in fire safety inspection and compliance.

LFB updates on progress in implementing its Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations

Two years after the Grenfell Tower Inquiry (GTI) published recommendations for London Fire Brigade (LFB) and others, LFB has published an update on its progress in implementing them.

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FireAngel’s Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer, Nick Rutter, shares why the Internet of Things is set to transform fire safety.

Number of unsafe buildings in London suspending ‘stay put’ strategy passes 1k – Fire Commissioner calls for urgent action

Urgent action has been called for by the London Fire Commissioner after the number of apartment blocks in London deemed unsafe exceeds 1,000. 

Three-quarters of fire doors in recent years have failed inspection

Thousands of fire safety installations in the past two years have failed their inspections, according to the Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS).

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The Women in Health & Safety network’s next virtual event takes place on Tuesday July 20. The event is free to attend and is open to all, male and female, member and non-members.

“Post-Grenfell, we will see changes to regulations, firefighting practice and how building materials are tested and certified, but I am not confident that we will see systemic change”

SHP speaks to Gill Kernick about her new book ‘Catastrophe and Systemic Change: Learning from the Grenfell Tower Fire and Other Disasters.’

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Fire Safety Bill becomes Fire Safety Act 2021

The Fire Safety Bill has recently passed through the House of Commons and House of Lords after a long-running parliamentary battle over the insertion of a clause to protect residents from remediation costs. 

Government appoints experts to review testing system for construction products

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Protecting the most vulnerable from fire risk

Nick Rutter, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at FireAngel takes a look at how connected technology can help improve fire safety for disabled people.

Fire safety in 2020 eBook – A year of challenges and change

Download the Fire Safety in 2020 eBook, from IFSEC Global and FIREX International, to keep up-to-date with the biggest stories of the year. It includes the latest legislation, Grenfell Tower Inquiry revelations and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected professionals in the sector.

‘Collaboration will be key to implementing cultural change in building safety’ – Peter Baker, Chief Inspector of Buildings, outlines his priorities

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Lessons from Grenfell: Why aren’t we learning?

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London Fire Brigade must do more to fully address failings from Grenfell, says report

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Housing Secretary pledges additional £3.5bn to tackle cladding crisis

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‘Hundreds of blocks of flats’ in England and Wales found to have ‘missing’ or ‘faulty’ fire prevention measures

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Government’s £30m Waking Watch Fund for fire alarm installations is open for applications

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National construction products regulator established to ‘build homes safer’ following Grenfell revelations

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Building Safety Minister calls on cladding executives to “step up” and face Grenfell inquiry

The UK’s Building Safety Minister, Stephen Greenhalgh, has added pressure to the calls for cladding executives who supplied materials for the Grenfell Tower to face the ongoing inquiry.

Delay in implementing Grenfell recommendations ‘abysmal’, says FPA

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Social and private landlords urged to accelerate plans to remove and replace ACM cladding

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Fire safety in 2020 eBook – A year of challenges and change

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Andrew Tootell
Andrew Tootell
4 years ago

First of all, my heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones and those who have loved ones missing. The main purpose of the fire risk assessment is prevention of the fire starting in the first place, this is very difficult in the housing sector as occupants will carry out daily activities that could result in fire such as cooking/smoking etc. In addition to this, there are fire risks associated with electrical items and most recently the fire risk associated to tumble dryers; it is this area that is weak in the fire risk assessment as landlords… Read more »

Celine Garcia
Celine Garcia
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Tootell

My sincere sympathy to all the families who lost loved ones in this fire. What a tragedy. It never should have happened Never…. Interesting to see what caused the fire as it raged as an inferno. Perhaps its time for all large buildings to have a safety officer particularly with the amount of people in a building such as this, I mean a 24/7 safety officer. Its too early to say what cause the fire so we wait to hear the investigations. We need to take steps that this never happens again. I pray for the victims and their families.… Read more »

Gliceria R. Derrota
Gliceria R. Derrota
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Tootell

An establishment of more than 40 years is high risk of fire. I believed that Grenfell Tower residents have been doing fire drill, However, I also want to understand that when stock in the middle of this type of disaster some people will not remember what they have learned. Maybe the following could help; * A thorough training for fire high risk places should be done often as they could. * Fire safety training/awareness should be very specific and should at least consider designations of who will run towards the alarm, which will run towards the fire hydrant/fire extinguisher etc.… Read more »

Safetylady
Safetylady
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Tootell

Sorry – this is just not a viable suggestion or solution..
We have to accept that fires do happen – obviously prevention is the first step, but the containment and limitation of a fire is critical for ‘defence in depth’.
Putting fridges, and everything else electrical, onto a database (only Housing Associations?) would make no contribution to reducing risk, even if it was remotely feasible.
Build safe and sound premises with effective and functioning protective measures – as was the original building. Then keep them like that.

Heather Foster
Heather Foster
4 years ago

Lots of questions, apart from the cladding – was the compartmentalisation compromised during the refurbishment? I understand that the heating and hot water system was changed to be a communal one, that may mean drilling holes through walls and were they properly sealed with correct intumescing sealant – was ducting properly sealed. What was the fire alarm system, was there one, can we see the Fire Risk Assessment for the building? Really only one way in and out of the building? I feel for the residents, their families and friends, this will be with them forever, horrific. I hope we… Read more »

Wesley
Wesley
4 years ago

Rydon Construction, who carried out the work, are reported to have said that it “met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards.”- HOW CAN THIS BE TRUE?

David Buchanan
David Buchanan
4 years ago

It’s all guesswork and speculation at the moment and we have to rely on the relevant authorities to find the truth.
If however, as was reported, the contractor believes it used approved materials and it turns out that the cheaper non fire retardant material was in fact used used this will narrow things down a bit. It could lead to an individual employee or an unscrupulous supplier, or a combination of the two colluding to make a few grand on the side. Let’s hope it was nothing so reckless.

Jack Lee CMIOSH , BA (Hons)
Jack Lee CMIOSH , BA (Hons)
4 years ago

The silence from the Health & Safety Executive is deafening . Grenfell Tower must have been a CDM nominated project . There must have been notification to the HSE on Form 10 .The will be a pre-tender HSE Plan and of course the chain of responsibility CDM requires . Could it be that if this cladding does appear to be a root cause of the fire escalation , who approved it? The advice to stay in the flat would have been good advice if the design of the original building had not been changed by the addition of the cladding… Read more »

paul obrien
paul obrien
4 years ago

I agree jack and am somewhat shocked that the hse are so quiet on such a tragedy, It was a notifiable project construction work, so who were the principal designers, who was the cdm co ordinator , This horrific event that killed so many people was preventable if the cdm regulations were applied and followed, The information, guidance and tools were there to design out any risks at the design stages of the project, Really this is a scandal arrests should already have been made

Lyndsey Wicks
Lyndsey Wicks
4 years ago

Firstly – My thoughts and prayers go out to all the families affected by this horrific disaster. Absolutely heartbreaking this fire should never have happened and could have been preventable – lessons need to be learnt so that this horrific disaster never happens again. All people involved in the decision making of the recent refurbishment need to be brought to task and made accountable for their actions and the decisions they made. The investigation needs to look at the decision makers throughout the whole process right from the top down through management/councils/Building Inspectors/Planning Officers and down the chain to the… Read more »

peter Tanczos
peter Tanczos
4 years ago

I suspect most of those with duties incumbent under CDM2015 are very worried this morning. We might not ever get to the bottom of it, such as which “designer” or “person acting as as a designer” specified the non fire resistant cladding? I always recommend using “critical decisions register” when you don’t have clear lines of respnsibility or your Client buys a guard dog but insists on barking themselves.

Simon Wiltshire
Simon Wiltshire
4 years ago

It is my understanding that there were approximately 500 people living in the building. The number of people missing and/or presumed dead has been grossly understated. Using good transparency, quality and safety management I look forward to the outcome of the upcoming investigation and the legal proceedings that will undoubtably occur. May there never again be such a horrific and needless tragedy.

Barry
Barry
4 years ago

Unfortunately I cannot agree with many of the comments below because it is too early at this stage to make these judgements.

What evidence is there of ‘corporate manslaughter’?

Training isn’t going to help if you are fast asleep and don’t hear the alarm.

The speed the fire spread was one of the major factors from what I have seen, and the lack of containment.

Until the findings have been made and the risk assessment compared to those findings and recommendations to see exactly what happened we can only assume, and you know what that means.

Efim Rabinovitch
Efim Rabinovitch
4 years ago

Like everyone else I am totally devastated by the inferno at Grenfell Tower and my thoughts are with those who have been affected.

I am also shocked to hear from the former Chief Fire Officer that “politicians stonewalled action to tighten building regulations”, adding: “They always seem to need a significant loss of life before things are changed.”

Stephen Worrell
Stephen Worrell
4 years ago

One cannot fail to be moved by the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower, the faces of families at burning windows begging for their lives and the lifelong scars that the tragedy will leave with survivors and their families. Let us also not forget, the fire fighters and emergency crews who once again have been called upon to perform the impossible, a task they carry out with such selfless bravery repeatedly entering the hell of a major fire in a desperate attempt to save lives. These heroes too will be haunted by thoughts of those they could not save. These blocks… Read more »

NIGEL Ellerton
NIGEL Ellerton
4 years ago

Why are high rise flats not fitted with compulsory sprinkler systems. It was obvious despite the heroic effortsof the fire service that fire equipment couldnt reach the upper floors.